Scott Williams: Can America’s leaders follow America’s lead?

A person holds up a sign as police officers and pedestrians cheer for nurses and medical workers at Lenox Hill Hospital Wednesday, April 15, 2020, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Over two months ago a silence fell upon the nation’s capital like a firm hand. Instantly the noise of the city, both physical and rhetorical, was suppressed and, for the first time in memory, Washington was alone with its thoughts.

What have we learned since?

At first, the voices to break the silence were those well beyond the Beltway, those of the American people. Bit by bit, across social media, the true character of the nation found its way to the surface like a western wellspring. As America held its breath wondering what would happen as jobs and life came to a stand-still, the spirit of its citizenry marshaled an explosion of good will and positive energy bubbling freely across our screens large and small.

Our celebrity culture was turned on its head, where the audience became the stars, citizen reporters, cheerleaders, entertainers, humorists. Late night TV lost its live laughter; instead we laughed at ourselves as we figured out how to cut hair, teach, play, bake, parent, play and entertain each other.

In a moment our cultural obsession with vanity was tossed out the window; a bad hair day became a badge of honor, not an embarrassment.

Celebrities, once basking in and profiting from the attention of their fans all of a sudden were spreading praise and showing humility toward Americans on the front lines of the pandemic. John Krasinki’s “Some Good News” YouTube show became a hit not because it covered the latest celebrity gossip, but for how it leveraged its founders celebrity power to spread and share the authentic love and character of the nation to us all.

The American people rose to the occasion while our political leaders, and aspects of the media did not. As the wave of affirmation by Americans for Americans crested, the political and media elites returned to their pre-pandemic ways and thinking.

The data-driven dreck of the campaign industrial complex returned in full force as politicians across the spectrum jockeyed to capture the upper hand, returning to the comfort of their “messages” and talking points. Be it the White House briefing room or Capitol Hill, the “narrative of the day” has never been so obvious nor so inauthentic.

An entire political industry has perfected the art of slicing and dicing us, finding our pain points, and seeking to persuade or deceive. The chattering classes with their talking boxes continued to probe our weaknesses or, better put, our fundamental goodness, to capture audience and attention rather than lift and inform.

With millions of dollars amassed in various campaign war chests, it’s understandable for the system to resist changing its ways. It’s not that Washington didn’t try but, even with the lighting speed with which it passed financial relief legislation, we witnessed the tit-for-tat between combatants looking for that knock-out sound bite, all while growing numbers of Americans were taking a last painful breath despite the best efforts of our doctors and nurses.

The president contributed to this atmosphere, repeating the line that America wants to get back to work. That wasn’t news, it was a universal sentiment from coast to coast. He rubbed salt on a fresh wound, but I’m sure it tested well.

All this while much of the broadcast media, speaking from the comfort of their lovely homes, seemed to be breathlessly surprised by the daily actions of caring and commitment by Americans across the country. What do they think happens in America when there isn’t a crisis?

The go-to word for our professional observing class and political leaders is “heroes.” It’s a great word, but I wonder if it’s being overused by those seeking to cozy up to those who live lives of purpose and integrity.

I’d suggest a more fitting title: American. Be it a highly trained fire-fighter or an hourly casher, our countrymen and women care. They care for each other, for their fellow citizens, for their country. They care about dong a good job.

Americans rose to the occasion. It’s a lesson our leaders need to better understand, and be wise to not exploit.

A native of Utah, Scott Williams is a communications consultant in Washington, D.C.

Scott Williams, a Utah native, is a communications consultant in Washington, D.C.